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The Australian Medical Association says doctors will continue to treat unvaccinated people who fall ill with COVID-19 after its Victorian branch suggested people who don’t believe the virus exists should opt out of public healthcare.
In comments reported by The Guardian, Dr Roderick McRae, president of the Victorian branch of the AMA, said those who denied the virus existed and refused to be vaccinated should opt out of receiving public healthcare if they became ill with the disease.
Victorian AMA president Roderick McRae. Credit:Joe Armao
“A whole lot of these people are passionate disbelievers that the virus even exists. They should notify their nearest and dearest and ensure there’s an advanced care directive that says: ‘If I am diagnosed with this disease caused by a virus that I don’t believe exists, I will not disturb the public hospital system, and I’ll let nature run its course,’” Dr McRae said.
But following a backlash from the medical sector, Dr McRae clarified his comments on Friday morning. In a statement, he said was not his intention to suggest that COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers should be denied medical treatment.
“Doctors will always provide care impartially and without discrimination,” he said.
“I intended to make the point that COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers are at more risk of contracting COVID-19 than vaccinated members of the community. A portion are also therefore more likely to become seriously unwell.”
He added that he was instead suggesting COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers consider updating their advance care directives.
That would ensure that, if they did contract COVID-19 and became seriously unwell, their wishes regarding their medical care would be respected, Dr McRae said in his statement.
The Australian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics , which is rooted in the Hippocratic Oath, requires doctors to “provide care impartially and without discrimination on the basis of age, disease or disability, creed, religion, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, criminal history, social standing or any other similar criteria.”
When asked by this masthead if the Victorian branch’s comment violated the code, federal president Omar Khorshid declined to respond and instead issued a late-night post on Twitter.
“The AMA Code of Ethics guides the behaviour of doctors and is the foundation of AMA policy. Doctors will always provide care to patients considering their right to make their own decisions, even bad ones like not getting [vaccinated],” he said.
“This means we respect your decisions even when don’t agree with them. Most importantly it means if you need – and want – treatment, we will be here for you.
“But if you don’t get [vaccinated] you are putting the lives of others at risk, including the doctors and nurses who look after you when sick and anyone who needs a hospital. So just do it. Now,” Dr Khorshid added.
He did not refer to the Victorian’s branch’s comments.
The AMA declined to comment on what action, if any, the Victorian branch might face over the remarks.
Victoria does not provide the vaccination status of the people who die after contracting COVID-19 in its daily updates but NSW Health does.
NSW Health said 13 of the 17 people who died with the virus this week were not fully vaccinated.
Ballarat surgeon Matthew Hatfield, the Victoria chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said every person deserved healthcare, regardless of their vaccination status.
“As a surgeon and as a doctor, I don’t think, personally, that I am of the position to deny treatment for someone whether or not they’ve been vaccinated,” he said.
“By not being vaccinated they’re at higher risk within a society where the disease is circulating, but that’s not a reason to deny them treatment.”
He said there were requirements to test patients having elective surgery to make sure they did not have COVID-19 at the time of surgery, “but in terms of vaccination, it’s not a condition of surgery.”
Dr McRae made his comments on the eve of Melbourne’s substantial reopening, which came after the city set the world record for longest cumulative time in lockdown.
Health policy strategist Bill Bowtell, who has been one of Australia’s most prominent proponents of a zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19, said while he understood the frustration with those who did not protect themselves against the virus, offering care to all regardless was fundamental.
“The frustration is palpable and completely understandable,” Mr Bowtell said.
“But in the end everyone is entitled as a basic human right to the best available and appropriate healthcare based on clinical need.
“It can’t be a right but then also conditionally extended depending on other factors.
“Whether a person accepts that care is up to them but it has to be offered,” he said.
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